A Giving Heart That Wasn’t Enough…

He clenched the ten dollar bill tightly in his little hand– a hand that I still imagine chubby with babyhood and dimples though, in reality, it’s growing long and broad and more capable with each day.  The excitement vibrated in his steps and his eyes quickly moved around the store when we entered.  My little mathematician was bound and determined to make that ten dollars stretch as far as he could.

 

His karate class had announced their annual “Kick Out Hunger” drive at his last session.  We didn’t have to remind him.  Or ask if he wanted to contribute.  He remembered all on his own and had been looking forward to this trip.

 

Up and down the aisles of Aldi he wandered, reading labels, checking prices.  He saw that corn and French cut green beans had been temporarily marked down– and that he could afford to buy a case of each with his money.  That.  That was what he wanted to do, he decided.  He could afford 24 cans of vegetables (bear with me– I know corn is a grain) and he was mighty proud of this fact.

 

Four days later, it was time to deliver them to the class.  I wish, more than anything, that I had captured a picture of my five-year-old son carrying one of those cases all by himself to add to the contributions.  Such joy.  Such pride.  Such determination to do good and make a difference.

 

And, I kid you not, the very next day, I read an article that dripped with loathing toward the donations of “canned vegetables” and “sugary cereal” that come into food pantries.  How sad, the author went on, that we would donate food that we would never feed our own families.  Things that don’t measure up to our own standards.  She spoke of a need for abundant fresh produce, organic oats, and pastured eggs for the poor and malnourished.  Honestly, I would much rather my family eat the things she mentioned, too, but it left me feeling bitter and annoyed…

 

Saying that something isn’t ideal does not necessitate suggesting that it is bad or wrong.  And packaged foods?  Lend themselves to drives like this.  They’re individually sealed, keep for a long time, stack easily, and facilitate distribution.  They’re also familiar to many and easy to prepare.  Does that negate the fact that they’re less nutritious?  Maybe not, but it’s certainly worth mentioning.

 

I read that post and I thought of my sweet little boy and the joy radiating from his innocent face and I realized…

 

I’m so happy the organizers of that food drive didn’t feel the need to engage in food snobbery.  I’m so glad they met our generous-spirited son’s contribution with smiles of gratitude.

 

Even if it isn’t perfect.

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21 comments to A Giving Heart That Wasn’t Enough…

  • I completely agree with BOTH sides of this issue (if that is possible).

    1) Not enough people give. When someone does, it should be encouraged. It is awesome that your son was so excited about his donation and there is really nothing wrong with what he chose to donate.

    And then for the other side…

    2) A close family member of mine works for a homeless shelter. They are often FLOODED with donations of used clothing. Clothing that they do NOT need. It becomes a burden. Of course telling a willing person that they do not need their generous donation is tricky. He often accepts it anyway. So…

    I’ve learned that the BEST way to donate is by asking an organization what they NEED. Another used shirt? Not so much. Toilet paper? YES, PLEASE!!

    Again, I think it is awesome that your son donated and since he was donating to a FOOD drive, I’m sure his donation was 100% appropriate.

    • I totally agree that the best course of action, when possible, is to ask how you can help and to try to meet the actual needs. Very good point. However… I don’t really think it’s a parallel analogy. A closer analogy might be, “Yeah, we have people who really need clothes, but, these? These clothes are not high enough quality or good enough brands for them. Sorry. Not good enough.” It is THIS attitude I object to. Does that make sense?

      • Yes, that does make sense. Still….

        I once asked my family member exactly WHY they don’t need clothing donations. His response was filled with a matter-of-fact type logic and no judgment, but does go along with the “not good enough” theory. He explained:

        Cheap clothing is a lot more available than it used to be. You can buy a shirt at Walmart for really cheap. Most of the residents are coming into the shelter WITH clothing. Since no one is ever donating NEW clothing, the men don’t really NEED the used clothing. It isn’t any better than what they already have.

        Of course this is the situation at one shelter. A shelter that houses men for an extended period of time. It isn’t a crisis center where the men are in and out in 12 hours. Perhaps those shelters are in much higher need of quality used clothing.

        I am NOT suggesting that you or your readers never donate to an organization for fear that it won’t be good enough. I’m simply trying to suggest finding out what the needs are. I’m sure the shelter my family member works for would LOVE a donation of new dress shirts, but they already have too many used ones.

      • Geez, JessieLeigh… I keep thinking about this and thought of another example. You are going to be sick of hearing from me! (For the record: I NEVER comment this much on blog posts. EVER! You should feel honored along with any annoyance you feel. haha!)

        So in my hometown my father told me about this house that is is extremely run down and deemed unfit to live in. I guess it would have taken a ton of work to make it live-able so the home could be sold. So instead it is being turned into a homeless shelter.

        My father felt torn about this. On one hand it is great that a homeless shelter is being created. On the other hand he said, “It isn’t good enough to live in, so let’s have the homeless live there?? That doesn’t seem right.”

        The issue of donations not being “good enough” goes WAY beyond fresh vs. frozen vs. canned green beans. It sounds like the author of the article was splitting hairs over food donations. I would love to read this article that got you fired up.

        I still think your son’s donation sounds absolutely appropriate and that it was a wonderful experience for him.

        Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all had enough resources that only the best of everything was donated to those in need? Sadly, that won’t be happening anytime soon so let’s all just do what we can with what we have and move as the Lord directs us. Even if that is with CANNED green beans. ;)

        Thanks though for letting me get on my soap box a bit about the bigger issue surrounding this topic.

        • I love that you’re thinking about it and fleshing out your thoughts in the comments, Rebekah– that’s fantastic! It is a HUGE topic and one that could easily take up several posts. I just think it goes beyond the surface. (And you alluded to this, too.) There are so many variables. In some situations, though not necessarily the one you spoke of, deciding to turn a condemned property into a homeless shelter opens up the opportunity for funding and grants that might not otherwise have existed. So, in theory at least, the building could be repaired and ameliorated in ways that an individual could not manage. And I think of the food situation… what is “ideal” to me may not be for another family. I am blessed to be home, able to take the time to prepare fresh food for my family. There are families out there where the 8yo is fixing breakfast for himself and his younger siblings. Is he going to be able to cook up a pot of old-fashioned oats before school? Maybe not. A box of cereal might be a real blessing for that family. There really is SO much to consider, I think.

  • Uhhh, the instructions we receive from food pantries (they are, in fact, a PANTRY) are to send CANNED or BOXED goods. They have to be shelf stable because the donation centers are not equipped for fresh or frozen goods.

    Is something wrong with that picture? Sure. Would it be fabulous if we could somehow feed the poor and needy fresh, whole foods meals? Absolutely. Heck, it’d be fabulous if I could always feed MY OWN FAMILY that way!

    Fabulous and reality don’t always gel. And best wishes to the pioneers who will fight for higher quality shelters and donation centers. We need spirited go-getters like that. :)

    • Indeed– “fabulous and reality do not always gel”– both out in the “real world” and within our own homes. I’m totally with you there! Sometimes, what is most NEEDED might not be our first choice. This should never take away from the legitimacy of the need or the beauty of the providing, in my opinion.

  • The point of your post is that your little boy in a spirit of genuine concern and real generousity did his very best to make the best choice possible with the funds he had. With that same ten dollars he probably could have bought fresh green beans, but they would not have been a good choice for a Pantry and probably would have gone to waste. The fact is that he bought a case of vegetables, ready to eat (in a pinch, they could even be eaten without heating them), and that will help feed several families. A well-thought out choice to make his money do the most good it could….made by a little boy with a giving heart. Not enough?? Bah! Your son did a great job and both you and he can be proud of his understanding of the need and the end result! It was more than enough, it was inspiring!!

    • I never wavered in being proud of him! :) I think he made an excellent choice and that his heart was totally in the right place. I just find it so sad that we feel the need to be judgmental about… giving. What are we hoping to accomplish with that, you know?

  • I lost my job about a year and a half ago due to illness. My family and I went through a couple of hard financial transitions before being in the somewhat comfortable place we are in now. I say somewhat because we don’t have as much to work with as we once did. Anyway, during these transitions we had to visit our local food pantry (the same one that in the past we had donated food). I can guarantee you no one we saw there (including us) discriminated against any of the food we received. We were just glad to have it. A lot of the food was either canned or boxed or frozen right before the expiration date. That didn’t stop us from finding creative ways to use it and feed our family. So there was no fresh produce? Who cares? We were eating.

    • I’m with you on this, and I thank you so much for sharing your personal story in this space. While our experience was different, we DID have a time in our lives when we had to stay at a Ronald McDonald House for 3 1/2 months. During that time? We were gratefully and humbly blessed by the meals and food provided to us– which included a large amount of canned veggies, boxed meals, etc. It never would have occurred to me to feel “cheated out of fresh/organic”– I was grateful to have a meal set in front of my exhausted self!

  • Amanda

    Oh this story makes my heart all mushy and my tears well up. It seems to me that I often see what you saw in your little boy in the actions of others, and it always makes me mushy. What a caring little boy to want to help out so strongly. I hope that I have children like that one day. If he was mine, I probably would’ve picked him up in a teary little hug and told him that he is special.

    As for the negativity. You gave a food bank what they ask for. What kind of person has a problem with that? They don’t have the resources to handle the kinds of fresh food that many people may prefer. However, if you can’t afford to feed your family and need to visit a place full of caring people who want to help you out and give you food…somehow I doubt that you’d care if it was in a can or a box or fresh out of the ground. Perhaps what the negative lady should do is buy up her own fresh food and take it to families in need instead of relying on the food bank to give them food. That would solve her ‘anger’.

    But I think your boy is lovely, and he definitely deserves to feel good about his decision. After all, veggies in a can is better than no veggies at all!

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment, Amanda– I feel the love and warmth in your words and it makes my heart happy. I guess at the end of the day, I’m just so grateful that he gave freely and as best he could without any thought to “appearances” or “food snobbery” or being superior in some nutritional hierarchy. I’ll take that over organic oats any day. :)

  • Since my local grocery store has several aisles of canned goods none of which are expired I’m thinking LOTS of folks are buying and using canned goods. Enough for quick turnover of grocery stock at any rate. It’s so wonderful your sweet boy found the best bang for his buck and will have helped quite a lot of people.

    • Oh, canned goods are familiar and well-loved, that’s for sure! I will continue to do my best to protect my children from such unnecessary criticism… there are enough valid complaints without entertaining that nonsense, IMO. ;)

  • Celine

    I am so glad to hear that your son took the time to figure out which items would allow him to provide the most help for the amount he had to spend.

    I will say that I really dislike articles like the one you mentioned. For so many who use food pantries just having something to eat is more important then whether it’s an organic whole food. With the way the economy is there is more need so having a large quantity of available foods ends up being more important. It is sad what the S.A.D is, unfortunately food pantries are not the reason for the way the food system is here.

    • Thank you, Celine. I (obviously) dislike such articles, too. I think I also see it kind of a back-handed slap at these families who are seeking out packaged foods to feed their families. Many of them might prefer canned veggies for the ease of preparation– this does not make them bad or inferior people. I resent the idea of looking down our noses at those eating “lesser quality” foods… :(

  • What a sweet boy!

    As someone who relied on a food pantry for a time while growing up, I think people really need to consider the types of food they donate. Too often people give their discards like minced meat, canned beets or fruitcakes. I believe that you should only give items that you would enjoy. When donating to a food pantry that serves families I like to donate chocolate chips, kids cereal, and mac and cheese. I don’t really eat those items now but as a kid I would have loved to get them. Also, I donate a few speciality items like gluten free flour and coconut milk in case any families have food allergies. All that being said, I give canned veggies because you can’t donate frozen veggies!

    • I love what you’ve written here, Nora, and I so appreciate your heart. How lovely that you take the time to really think about what these children in need would really, truly enjoy. I imagine some dark days have been made a little brighter by your thoughtfulness!

  • Anna

    As a longtime helper in a soup-kitchen in Germany I agree with many opinions voiced here: Of course it is better to have canned food than none. Of course canned food is more practical than fresh.
    Nora’s thoughts resonate with me a lot: It is often the motivation behind a donation that’s important to helpers and recipients. I used to receive used clothing from relatives as a kid and I very much resented that oftentimes they just seemed to dump whatever they wanted to get rid of on me and my family. The soup kitchen I worked at relies on food donations with basic supplies like oil, rice, noodles… bought as needed and leftover fresh fruit and veggies, dairy and bread donated by local businesses. Now we love the bakery: they always seem to have enough bread leftover to cover our needs and often more. I suspect they put some aside specially for us. The fruit and veggie people, not so much. We would often be annoyed with them for dumping old stuff on us and having us sort through a case of rotted fruit for a few good pieces.
    One of the happiest moments for our guests was when they received baggies of home baked Christmas cookies one year – they asked again and again “Were they really made just for us?”
    Now I love what A. did: He combined practicality and kindness, he thought about what would be best for the recipients, what would help them most. That attitude is worth a lot more than fresh produce.[Which btw many food pantries here in Germany can use because they pair up with a soup kitchen and serve fresh cooked food. Maybe the angry lady could donate a fridge to her local pantry or just start cooking]

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to comment and weigh in, Anna. You made so many wonderful points. I LOVE the idea of sharing homemade cookies… that story made me smile and cry at the same time. :)

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